The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) recently issued reports summarizing its findings from its investigations on the U.S. cucumber and squash industries and the effect imports had on seasonal growers. The reports provided a review of the U.S. and Mexican cucumber and squash industries and an analysis of competitive market conditions.
The ITC reports do not support the U.S. Southeast growers’ reaction to blame Mexican imports for their problems, said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA.) The report notes the difficulties faced by domestic Southeast growers.
“Mexican imports are highly differentiated from the competition in terms of varietal selection and packing standards,” Jungmeyer said. “Consumer demand for Super Select cucumbers, fancy cucumbers and unblemished squashes drive the marketplace.”
American consumer demand for cucumbers and squash has increased as more Americans are eating more fresh vegetables. U.S. cucumber and squash production cannot meet the total demand for cucumbers and squash year-round and imports, primarily from Mexico, are needed to fill that gap. Most Mexican imports enter during November through May when domestic production is not readily available (i.e. only from Florida).
The report also noted that imports have increased because of shifts in U.S. consumer demand for cucumbers and squash in a broader range of varieties. Most Southeast cucumbers growers still only grow American slicers in open fields. Mexican growers use protected agriculture to grow burpless and snacking varieties of cucumbers, including English, Persian and mini cucumbers. Southeast growers cannot meet this growing market segment. “The report showed that Mexican cucumbers are sold for $2-3 a box more than U.S. cucumbers at terminal markets in Eastern cities, where demand tracks closely with local preference,” Jungmeyer said.
For instance, the AMS East Coast average prices for U.S.-grown medium conventional American slicing cucumbers in one and one-ninth bushel boxes ranged from $14.34-$35.00/box from 2015 to 2020. Cucumbers from Mexico ranged from $17.25-$37.13/box. There was no evidence of Mexican imports underselling U.S. cucumbers and squash
The ITC report also identifies other issues impacting Southeast U.S. growers including:
Labor cost, availability: Higher labor costs and limited labor availability hinder U.S. growers by causing higher production costs, lower productivity yields and fewer product types. U.S. growers have increasingly used temporary migrant workers via the H2A visa program, but H2A workers account for only about 10 percent of U.S. crop workers. The lack of domestic labor results in quality differences.
Difficult growing conditions: The high humidity/unique growing conditions Southeastern U.S. brings unique challenges to cucumber and squash growers. This includes climate-related pest and disease pressures that elevate costs due to the need to apply significant amounts of pesticides and fungicides. The potential for crop damage/losses from hurricanes and tropical storms also negatively impacts Southeastern growers.